Real Parents

You’re not my real parents.

I said that to them at least once in my life. I followed the comment by running away from home, a slammed door followed by a short jaunt down Lola Drive with my blankee tied up on a yard stick and filled with GI Joe action figures (essential to survival). Five houses down, I realized my mistake and headed back. I pulled up a chair at the dinner table and ate a delicious meal that my parents had provided. They forgave me and loved me through the ordeal, just like “real” parents do.

I’m fairly sure every adopted kid has thought or said the same thing to their parents. It’s still a little confusing, after all, knowing that the people who raised me aren’t the people who made me. By ‘made,’ of course, I mean ‘had sex,’ and then one of them dealt with me explicitly for the next nine months. And both of them (biological mom and dad), after having made me, have probably dealt with the reality of their flesh and blood out there in the world, far removed from them for important, challenging reasons.


Simone Biles and I have at least three things in common – we were/are both gymnasts, we are Catholic, and we are adopted. People tend to understand the gymnast and the Catholic thing – sports and faith. Easy. But the adopted thing? Whose kid is this really?

A few days ago, Al Trautwig made (and, to his credit, later apologized for) an awkward, if not offensive, comment about the Olympic champion gymnast and her parentage.  “They may be mom and dad, but they are NOT her parents,” Al tweeted.

Then, who are they?


From what I’ve read, Simone’s biological mother Shannon struggled with a drug addiction that left her unable to care for her four children. Shannon’s father Roland (Simone’s biological grandfather) and his wife Nellie took charge, eventually adopting Simone and her little sister. Simone was four years old.

Now 19, Simone has seen Ronald and Nellie looking on from the stands for the entirety of her gymnastics career, which has just recently produced Olympic gold. Ronald and Nellie have driven Simone to early morning workouts, provided an education, fed her, clothed her, cheered her on in her greatest successes and held her close when she lost, or was injured, or was tired and wanted to quit. They gave her faith. They raised her. They are her parents. 1

Unless we want to think of parents in some other way. But I don’t think we can. Not really. The gift of life that parents provide doesn’t end when the child is just out of the womb. The gift extends well beyond first moments and into the flashes of life that parents provide their children each and every day. Parents who stick around for that are real parents. Who love without concern of being loved. Who step up when the kid needs it. Who fly halfway around the world to cheer their kid on. Who watch their daughter win Olympic gold.

It’s not always easy, and sometimes we end up with parents different from the ones who ‘made’ us. But let’s not think that biological connection is the only thing that makes a parent real.


(1) Imagine telling Joseph that he wasn’t Jesus’ father. Imagine telling Joseph that after all those years wiping baby Jesus’ butt, holding him during bouts with the stomach flu, working to put food on the table, teaching him to pray, to work hard, to pick up after himself, to be a good man and a good Jew, he wasn’t really Jesus’ father. The Christian tradition holds that Joseph is the foster father to Jesus, but I don’t think a qualifier is necessary. Joseph did just what real fathers do: he was there for everything until he couldn’t be there anymore.

This article by Eric Immel, SJ originally appeared at The Jesuit Post.

Prayer During Tragedy

Events in our national life are often sadly familiar. That is certainly true of the Orlando shootings this past weekend. Mass violence. Contentious claims about Islam and domestic terrorism. The nation briefly rallying in solidarity. Prayers, anguish, and calls for change. Probable failure to address the root causes. An almost inevitable repetition in the near future.

What is also becoming familiar, however, is a certain reaction to this reaction, especially the prayer. Within hours of the attack, I saw memes on Facebook like the phrase “Pray for America” with the “Pray” crossed out and the words “Policy Change” written beneath.

This is not a wholly new phenomenon. “Prayer shaming” was a prominent element of the reaction to the San Bernardino shootings in December 2015. Of all the things to capture our national attention in the wake of disaster, it was prayer and its efficacy. Read More

The Mystery in the Mundane

In Madrid we live in apartment flats (pisos) and our house chapel is a converted bedroom – a rather small bedroom. For our community of fifteen fully grown Jesuits, it can be a tight fit. The space is about twice as long as it is wide, so we sit on a bench against one of the longer walls, leaving just enough room for the presiding priest to face us from the other side of a narrow altar. If you’ve ever wondered why the disciples are all on one side of the table in Da Vinci’s Last Supper, here’s a possible explanation: perhaps they were dining in someone’s bedroom.

Most people experience the liturgy from a distance, noticing arms raised and lowered, the mixing of water and wine, the shuffle of plates, cups, and candles. For most people, everything happens somewhere up there. In our chapel there is no up there, no long processions, no smoke and mirrors; the back row is the front row and you can’t help but notice every last detail. It all happens, quite literally, right before your eyes. I’ve basically memorized the nervous tics of each presiders’ hands, their habits of turning pages, breaking bread, pouring wine.

I, like many people, normally adopt a ‘safe-distance’ approach to the sacraments — hoping to experience God at my own pace and on my own terms — so, at first, this bedroom-chapel arrangement was a little jarring. What had been a public ritual celebrated in big cavernous churches, had become an intimate act, a personal experience — a fitting preparation, I suppose, for my own ordination. What was once a kind of magic has become, by grace, mundane.


I recently went to Rome and visited the mother church of the Jesuits, the Gesu. Let me assure you — it’s one mother of a church. Baroque exuberance at its best, the Gesu is overwhelmingly beautiful without falling, as so much baroque art does, into the hopelessly gaudy. This church is flooded with the full force of the Ignatian imagination, the greater glory of God crammed into every last detail. I imagine the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins would marvel at it all — a temple turned playground where the eye can’t help but tumble from one thing to the next, the whole church charged with the grandeur of God, angels and saints flaming out all over the place.

My early liturgical experiences took place in moldy gymnasiums that smelled of adolescent boys and industrial grade disinfectant – first at my Catholic high school and later as a volunteer at Central Juvenile Hall in downtown LA. I recalled those gym-masses as I stood in the Gesu and remembered something I once heard one of those jail priests say, trying to encourage reluctant kids to come forward for communion or a blessing: “Sometimes we fear this moment because we think it’s too sacred for us, but the greater risk is forgetting that it’s also a meal where all are wanted and everyone welcomed.”

There is no risk, in the Gesu church, of forgetting that what happens there is sacred. There is greater risk of forgetting that what we memorialize there was a simple meal – a last supper for a soon to be convict. In that great stone church, dedicated to the name of Jesus, we gather to consecrate our most humble gifts and we pray that they become his body and blood. At the center of all that polished marble we are moved most by a bit of bread and a cup of wine.

In one corner of the church a large painting hides a silver statue of Ignatius – a real ‘man of steel’. Every afternoon a baroque mechanism (fabulously called a ‘conversion machine’) scrolls away the painting, dramatically revealing the statue behind – it’s basically the 17th century equivalent of a gif. Watching the whole show unfold it struck me that we also risk forgetting that Ignatius, like Christ, like us, was human. Fleshy and fallen, by many measures, a failure.


Back in Madrid one of our beloved elder Jesuits made us smile recently during a daily liturgy by absentmindedly taking the elevation of the host as a convenient time to simultaneously glance at his watch. It wasn’t a grave crime, just the liturgical pragmatism of a septuagenarian priest saying mass in a converted bedroom. He probably needed to take a pill at a certain hour, something that – through him, with him, and in him – he didn’t want to forget.

This same priest began showing signs of Parkinson’s earlier this year. His hands shake when he’s not focused. I watch them move through the liturgy like I’d watch my mother’s hands in the kitchen as a kid, like I’d watch the hands of a woodworker or a calligrapher. They know well the pages, the tabs, the ribbons, the simple rhythm of it all. That he can recite the prayers while checking the time is actually a kind of proof of faithfulness – if not attentiveness – and even his liturgical blunders are a memorial of grace.

Watching his hands I am reminded of how the sacred is poured out in frailty, how the mundane is made holy in fidelity. In a bedroom chapel, a jailhouse gym, or the Gesu church, in all things and in every moment, it’s good to remember that we are all held together by a few trembling hands and a little holy communion.

This article by Brendan Busse, SJ originally appeared at The Jesuit Post.


10 Ways to Make Meaningful Connections in the Digital Age

Smartphones are supposedly ruining our lives and making us incapable of having real conversations. But phones, like other modern means of communication, are tools. We can surely misuse them, but we can also use them to create meaningful connection. Here are ten ways:

1) Practice “relationship life support” — but don’t be afraid to unfollow or unfriend

Writing “Happy birthday!” on a friend’s wall, liking someone’s pic on Instagram, or retweeting a friend’s witty remark are forms of relationship life support. While this communication is generally not deep, it can at least help to keep a relationship alive.

That being said, sometimes relationships shouldn’t be continued. I probably don’t need to see updates about my fifth grade acquaintance I will never meet again. Unfriending and unfollowing can allow me to have the mental bandwidth to invest in more meaningful relationships.

2) Hide behind a screen to get over your fears

The anonymity of the net creates trolls and Yik Yak abuse, but it can also be used for good. Recently, I have been using a site to connect with language tutors for one-on-one Skype sessions. Exactly because they are people I will never meet in person, I don’t care what I sound like. I end up getting great practice in the language and meeting cool people at the same time.

Maybe you have some nerdy passion that your in-person friends don’t share? The internet was meant for connecting people who share common interests. Read More

Rethinking Chill

This post by Eric Immel, SJ is also featured on The Jesuit Post.

“Will you go out with me?” It’s a terrifying question once awkwardly muttered by romantically untried youths everywhere. No longer. I may have first uttered the words during a teen night at my local YMCA, or perhaps over my family’s landline on a Thursday – the one day of the week I was allowed to call friends on the phone in 6th grade. It’s a dead concept now – going steady – dust clinging to the soles of in-fashion shoes too cool, too free, too noncommittal.

I’m a little slow on the uptake regarding popular trends in post-adolescent romantic culture, but I’ve recently heard of a dating phenomenon referred to as ‘Chill.’1 This epidemic, as one article calls it, seems to be the norm and the goal: cool, unconcerned, open, and easy relationships. ‘Chill’ is a way to get out of the “will you go out with me” question. People seeking  some form of romantic involvement hold each other at bay with a ‘Chill’ attitude that says, “we’re just having fun,” and, “we’re in no rush to commit ourselves to each other,” and, “there are lots of people out there that we deserve to experience.” It takes many forms, from openness in casually dating multiple people to the cryptic ‘Netflix and Chill,’ which I gather is some new articulation of an ever-growing hookup culture. Some defend the concept, albeit not fully, and others find it unpredictable and unsafe. I lean more towards the latter.

I’m worried that, at least for a moment, people forget that we actually feel things – real, emotional things that matter deeply, things that shatter us, that then define us. When we pretend we don’t feel these things – desire, disappointment, longing, loyalty, affection, anxiety – we may become complacent or numb, we may lose passion, and we may lose our ability to love. These results don’t feel ‘chill’ to me. Numbness disconnects us from reality. Lost passion leads to apathy. Love never manipulates, never seeks a selfish, one-sided end, and never leaves a wake of brokenness in its path. ‘Chill’ doesn’t ensure that we will become callous and fractured, but it can be a green light to set things in motion.

‘Chill’ may offer protection from fear of rejection, but it doesn’t really offer peace that comes with authentic connection and companionship. Perhaps we should look for a new form of ‘chill.’ One that admits that we’re comfortable with the reality that we need each other in deep and intimate ways. One that never pushes away, always drawing us closer to what we hope lives at the center of all relationships – a crazy little thing called love.



5 Ways Gratitude Can Change American Politics

This post by Bill McCormick, SJ  is also featured on The Jesuit Post.

Donald Trump. Income inequality. Government shutdowns. School shootings. The refugee crisis. Immigration reform. Declining wages. Health care costs. Campaign finance. Congressional leadership. Donald Trump. Outsourcing. Culture wars. Lobbyists. Ferguson. Homelessness. Failing schools. Crony capitalism. Voter apathy. Media bias. Racial Inequality. Did I mention Donald Trump?     

What’s your reaction to this list?

I know mine: gratitude. Read More

Newborn: Prayers Answered

This post by  Keith Maczkiewicz, SJ is also featured on The Jesuit Post.

I don’t think I ever prayed for anything as regularly or as fervently. Since last Christmas, when my sister told us she and her husband were expecting their first child, the constant petition on my lips was for the health of mother and baby. “For my sister and all pregnant women.” I said it a lot.

And I meant it.

I knew my sister was in good hands with my brother in-law and mother around, and since I live far from them, I couldn’t do much anyway. But I could pray. When I have nothing else to offer, I can at least do that. So I prayed for my sister at staff meetings, at Mass in my community, during my personal prayer times. I invited others to pray with me for her and asked God to direct it all, as God willed it.

And I waited. Read More